The story behind one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals, “Fiddler on The Roof,” has its creative roots in early 1960s New York, when “tradition” was on the wane as gender roles, sexuality, race relations and religion were changing dramatically. The story has resonated for over five decades with audiences.
With music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein, the musical is set in Imperial Russia in 1905 and is based on “Tevye and his Daughters” (or “Tevye the Dairyman” and other tales by Sholem Aleichem.
“Tradition!” How many people around the world have been touched by this 1964 musical about a poor Russian dairy farmer and his five daughters? As Joel Grey says in the beginning of this wonderfully dense documentary, “Why does everyone think it is about them?”
“Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” opens with a violinist playing the familiar opening chords of the fiddler on the roof. “Sounds crazy, no?” That immediately took me back to my high school gymnasium, where we performed “Fiddler on the Roof” as our annual musical, the first year the rights were released.
I have seen this show so many times that I have forgotten how many – at least five times at the Muny, once at Stages St. Louis, and in countless community theater productions, and I even directed one. Just when you think ‘why should I see it again?,’ it draws you in – and you laugh and cry.
Of course, it touches hearts. The play, which had a recent Broadway revival, this time in Yiddish, endures because it is about family and home.
Any parent, child, person forced from their home – or just feeling like an outsider – can feel what the villagers of Anatevka are going through as Tevye struggles with maintaining his Jewish and religious cultural traditions.
This international hit is so beloved that you are drawn to this movie’s attempts to explain its appeal and why, in the middle of the 1960s upheaval, it became a bona fide classic.
Not only profitable but highly acclaimed, the winner of nine Tony Awards (and more through the years), adapted into an Oscar-nominated Best Picture, five Broadway revivals, and for a 10-year stretch was the longest-running musical on Broadway – what a miracle of miracles indeed.
The movie uses current Broadway all-stars and archival footage to present its case. For fans of musical theater, it is a must-see. But even if you only saw the musical once a long time ago, you can still enjoy the reflection on the creative process.
It’s such a vibrant study of a cultural touchstone that you might be caught dancing to “To Life!” afterwards.